Despite months of protests from both users and developers, Twitter is today killing third-party app access to some of its most popular features, including push notifications and automatic timeline updates. As a result, well-established Twitter clients are currently in the process of removing multiple features from their apps, including everything from entirely ceasing Apple Watch support to delaying or stopping notifications.
Unlike Facebook, which for years has controlled nearly all of its own usage through self-developed apps and web interfaces, Twitter has many users accessing the service through third-party mobile and desktop apps. For $5 to $10 per app, developers have offered interfaces that are more streamlined and less manipulated than Twitter’s, plus features — such as Apple Watch support — that are missing from the official app.
Today’s change is financially motivated. Twitter is shutting down the free streaming server connection developers have used, offering a similar alternative called the Account Activity API that would cost $2,899 per month for each 250 users. At that price, app developers say they would need to charge over $16 per user just to break even. Few, if any, users would be willing to pay that price.
Because of today’s change, popular Twitter clients — including Tweetbot, Talon, and Tweetings — have already removed multiple stream-dependent features, an outcome Tweetbot developer Tapbots describes as “totally out of our control.” Tweetbot’s list of feature deletions and changes is the most comprehensive of the bunch, and says:
- Timeline streaming on Wi-Fi is now disabled. Your timelines will now refresh automatically every 1-2 minutes instead.
- Push notifications for Mentions and Direct Mentions will now be delayed by a few minutes.
- Push notifications for Likes, Retweets, Follows and Quotes have been disabled. We’ll be investigating [bringing] some of these back in the future.
- Activity and Stats tabs have been removed.
- [Apple] Watch app, which depended heavily on Activity data, has been removed.
Other popular third-party apps, including Twitterrific, have yet to release updates as of press time. As the streaming feature is scheduled to stop working today, unpatched apps will likely exhibit issues with updating feeds shortly.
Today’s changes only add to the recent wave of bad press that has surrounded Twitter. In 2018 alone, the company has faced non-stop criticism for allowing various bad actors to overwhelm its eponymous service, only belatedly confronting massive problems with racists, trolls, bots, provocateurs and conspiracy theorists. Less publicly, Twitter has struggled while adjusting policies to address underage users, floods of malicious apps, and internal infrastructure issues.
But the company last month announced its third straight profitable quarter, a welcome change for investors after years of losses. And since the latest changes could force more users onto Twitter’s own mediocre, ad-filled interfaces, they may lead to a further uptick in revenues — unless, as with Snapchat, angry users opt to leave the service rather than accept UI compromises.
Updated at 9:28 a.m. Pacific: Twitter executive Rob Johnson addressed the changes in a blog post, largely reiterating prior suggestions that it is cutting support for the developer tools so it can focus “on delivering the best experience for our apps and sites” instead. Trivializing the changes that will impact users today, the company claimed that the streaming tools were only being “used by about 1% of third-party developers,” and said that third-party apps are being updated so they can continue to be used with “minimal disruption.”
“We know some of you don’t like this more focused approach,” Johnson wrote, saying that Twitter is “grateful” to third party-developers, and continuing to invest in its developer ecosystem. “Also,” he said, “we’re continuing to invest in TweetDeck, our desktop web client for professionals who need more advanced tools.”
Twitter notably killed TweetDeck apps for Android, iOS, and Windows years ago, leading to howls of protest from some of Twitter’s most active users. As we previously noted, “[t]he outcry was massive, and yet Twitter didn’t seem to care.”